Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy new year!

I think that this is the longest I have gone without posting since I started this blog. Perhaps it is a good thing and shows that I am no longer scared of falling back into my old ways and therefore don't feel quite the same need to make public my intentions. But that is not the only reason I have enjoyed writing this blog (er, why the past tense??). Most of all I like to think I might have helped someone else by offering up my experience but that, of course, is very difficult to know. I simply enjoy writing and this serves as a outlet just as much as the running itself does.

2014 has not been a brilliant year for me but neither has it been a bad one. As you know, I've been slightly held back by problems with my feet since April and, more than the associated frustration, it has been the sense of "mortality" and finding my own limits that has been a bit of a downer. It's not so much this disappointment of not having improved my half marathon or 10K times - after all, that has to come to a stop eventually - but rather that I have had to think about reeling in my efforts in order to be able to continue running (hopefully) well into my old age: just thinking about that is what is depressing. But I can't complain - I ran the Behobia faster than I had expected and I turned out reasonably fast and consistent (if not best) times in the various other races I did this year.

What I have realized is that I was missing a big goal to focus on this year. The good news is that I now feel ready to run the New York Marathon again and I will try to get in with a qualifying time for 2015. The only problem is that it is no longer guaranteed for time qualifiers and the standards have been relaxed somewhat, so I'll just have to be quick off the mark. I wasn't sure if I would ever feel like running the New York Marathon again, not because it was a bad experience but quite the opposite - it was so perfect that I don't want to risk disappointment or, worse, tainting the memory that I have of it. So I think it is positive that I feel I can run it again without the pressure of having to beat my best time or even having to beat any particular time.

Recently I have found my feet again running. Over Christmas I went for a couple of runs around Ciudad Real (in La Mancha) that felt very comfortable and yet one was 10K in 39 minutes and the other was 21.1K in 1:28 minutes flat. I feel in good but not peak shape: the question will be whether my feet problems return once I start preparing for a competition. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it...

Tonight I will run the San Silvestre Vallecana as I do every year but this time not just with my wife but with my whole family. As a result and also because my wife is still not fully recovered from her run in with the zombies, we will probably only run 5K or so, but the point is the party atmosphere and for the kids to experience it. My wife will be donning the octopus costume this year and I will be going as a señora de la Mancha (photos to follow).

2015 promises to be a challenging year in all respects but - I think and I hope - in a good way. So, in that spirit I wish you all a challenging new year and see you in 2015!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Peace of mind

Of course it goes without saying that my family comes first, then my work and then everything else. But an important part of "everything else" is having everything (including myself) in working order. Although I continue to have problems with my (now left) foot, running is again enjoyable as long as I don't step on a stone. Finally, I also have all my bikes in working order - including the ZIPP disc wheel which needed an overhaul and turned out not to be as expensive as I had feared - and my treadmill has also been fitted with a new belt and board. All my gadgets are also working - something which has an irrational capacity to stress me out when they are not - and I have got some new running shoes which seem to be comfortable to run in. I went for the Merrell Trail Glove 3 again, in spite of the last ones giving me blisters (which I have now built up resistance to) and them wearing out after a disappointingly low number of miles. I had the brainwave to look at the German Merrell website, where the shoes are offered at much bigger sizes and I then discovered that Amazon could source them from Germany. So instead of the usual size 48 - which was on the tight side for me in this model and gave me blood blisters at the end of my toes - I went crazy and bought size 50!! I think it was the right decision even though a size 49 would probably have been just fine. When my toes are bent, they come quite close to the end of the shoe but without touching; as long as I tie the shoelaces up nice and tight, my foot doesn't move around in the shoe. The only problem is that they look like skis! I was a little concerned that I would be increasing my risk of tripping over, as I did in my Soft Star RunAmocs which had an extremely generous toe box. The difference with these is that the sole is much firmer and curls up ever so slightly at the toes (but not to the extent of the typical running shoes with significant heel-toe differential). With any luck my foot will get back to normal and I can keep my Vibram 5 Fingers in reserve for races.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

La Behobia - San Sebastián Race Report

The other day I saw a clinic which was both a dentist and a podiatrist - I can't think of anywhere I'd rather less want to visit. To be fair, Raúl my podiatrist from Clinica Piqueras has been great and very sympathetic to my running needs but the dentist is another matter. The time came around for me to have my wisdom tooth out but now, of course, it wasn't hurting so I talked them out of going through with it. Probably just as well because quite apart from having the race at the weekend, I had a couple of extra stressful days of work to get through first.

The Behobia - San Sebastian was celebrating it's golden (50) anniversary with a pretty cool t-shirt. It was quite hard work getting hold of it, though. The Expo was huge and I hadn't read the instructions properly so I went to get my t-shirt first instead of picking up my race number as I was supposed to. In the end I felt like I had walked most of the 20 kilometer course already. When there are 30,000 people taking part, it's not surprising that some queuing and walking is going to be involved. I did buy an excellent "vintage" Ironman sweatshirt though. In spite of there being so many people, I bumped into people I knew in every restaurant we ate in and while we were paseando along the beach I heard someone say "mira ese tío con pinta de guiri" and it turned out to be Dani, who we had arranged to meet later. This gives you some idea about the scale of the running invasion of the city.

One of the things that I most like about San Sebastian was also one of the things that complicated matters: it is not a city for cars. People are very active - running, cycling and even rowing - and much of the old part of the city is pedestrianized. With the extra influx of people it was practically impossible to park. My wife spent an hour going round in circles (bless her) while I was tucking into my pasta dinner with Dani and his friends.

With this in mind, I think we made an excellent decision to stay in a flat a little out of town, near the train station and about 3 kilometers from the finish line. To be honest, it wasn't even very easy to park around there but it was perfect for catching the train to the start on the Sunday morning. Dani was injured from having recently completed his second Ironman, so in the end he wasn't taking part. He volunteered to take my bag to the finish line so that I could lie in a bit longer as the cutoff time for the cloakroom was 8:45, an hour and a quarter before my start.

The first thing I did when I arrived in Irún (Behobia) was to call Dani. No answer. This was very odd: Dani is one of the most reliable and punctual people I know. In fact, he is probably the most punctual Spanish person I know (whether that says something about Spain or just people I know, I leave to the discretion of the reader). I was actually worried that something bad had happened to him but I was also worried I would have to run with my bag all the way. Meanwhile, I had other business to attend to. The portaloos were a luxury edition which came with toilet paper and a flushing action! Next I made my way to the cloakroom lorries which were still very much "open" an hour after the supposed cutoff time. The only downside was that I had to wear the plastic shawl I had conserved from the finish of the New York Marathon to keep warm and thus would have to dispose of it. Just then I heard my name being called and turned to see a stressed looking Dani: we could only really shrug and make thumbs up signs to each other over the noise which, later, turned out to be the reason he hadn't heard me call in the first place. I should have thought to tell Dani to pick up my New York plastic shawl but I soon realized that the important thing was to empty my mind and focus on the race. It occurred to me that the little incident was a kind of payback for the time in Lisbon when I told Dani, who was participating in his first ever Half Ironman, that he need not worry about taking all his stuff to the bike check in even though I was going to anyway...

I was in the second wave which started 1 minute after the leaders. It was just as well that I didn't try to sneak into the first wave for whatever good that would have done me, because I subsequently noticed that the organization automatically disqualify anyone with a start time ahead of their corresponding wave. The start of the course is relatively narrow so the start times had to be staggered significantly: some people started an hour and a half after me!

I figured that the hills would be more or less cancelled out by the 1.1 kilometre "discount" on the half marathon distance, so I was aiming for a time of 1:20 or a pace of exactly 4:00 per kilometre. We covered the first kilometre (which was flat, of course) in less than 3:30 which would have been fast even for a half marathon on level ground. There was a pacemaker for sub 1:12(!) and he impressively managed to reattach his flag which had blown off, all the while maintaining that cracking pace.

Thanks to the Morton's Neuroma, I could feel a burning pain radiating out to my toes but I knew that it wasn't "real". That is to say, I don't suppose I was doing myself any favours but, having decided to run the race, the pain wasn't a true reflection of the damage I was doing to myself so I tried to ignore it. After a while it got better but it was nevertheless a drain on my concentration.

It was fairly easy to remember where the hills were: kilometres 3, 7, 13 and 17. They weren't as bad as I had feared and I realized that running around Madrid means having to tackle hills of similar difficulty on a daily basis. Having said that, I'm sure that the hill intervals and strength training I did helped. It's funny how the suffering is different: I notice more of a burning sensation in my lungs and a metallic taste in my mouth than on a flat course. As it had been raining in the early morning, the roads were slightly slippy which meant that my shoes had less purchase on the ground. I'm used to losing time relative to others on the climbs but I also tend to regain it on the descents: this time, my conservatism due to my foot pain meant that I didn't catch up as much as I might otherwise have done on the downhill sections.

I was wearing my spiderman t-shirt which was only recognized by disappointingly few children. It's true that there were a lot of people out supporting along the whole route but to compare it to New York Marathon would be to compare the polite clapping at a game of cricket to the raucous support of a football match. Even so, when you are gritting your teeth as you plod up a steep hill every little helps. People shouting "Aupa neska!" in Basque spurred me on; it was only towards the end that I realised that it meant "Go girl!" and that they were in fact supporting a girl that I happened to be running next to at the time.

I got to halfway in just under 39 minutes, well inside my target time. I always find it hard to pace myself when there are hills - the altitude map never seems to correspond to the actual experience. A half marathon (or nearly) is a long enough distance that you can't mess around with it: go off too quickly and you pay it back double. The last hill looked one of the most tame but it was actually the one which took most seconds off my time. It was also the one at the crest of which I knew my family were waiting: I gave them all a high five and then it was downhill all the way to the finish.

Normally I would buy a photo but there weren't any good ones of me..
At last I got to the finish line in 1:17:20 which wasn't a bad effort at all. My 5K splits were fairly even in spite of the hills: 3:45, 3:56, 3:54 and 3:54.

I was pretty happy with my result but I couldn't help wondering if I should have been more ambitious. My goal isn't to beat so and so, neither is it necessarily to beat my own best time, instead what is important to me is to know that I did my best, that I didn't "wimp out". Maybe I erred on the conservative side what with my foot problems and the added difficulty of the hills, but now I have a benchmark for next time.

After a shower back in the flat, we met up with Dani and his friends in a fantastic (if not a little pricey) restaurant where we righteously stuffed ourselves to the gills with fish, meat and alcohol. All in all, a great weekend with the bonus of a bank holiday the next day to recover (and the kids had school to boot!).

Monday, November 3, 2014

La Behobia Week 7 / 8

Not mine - I wish! - but a friend's
It was strange to think that the New York marathon was going ahead without me this year, as it has been something not far from my thoughts for many years, until I was finally able to take part last year. I am torn between the idea of participating again and not wanting to risk tarnishing the memory of last year by anything less than a perfect day. It helped motivate me while I was running on Sunday - at the same pace I ran the Marathon last year - to think that 5,000 kilometrers away the race was weaving its way through the streets of the city I love so much.

I needed a bit of motivation because my weekend did not get off to a particularly good start from a running point of view. Just the day before I had decided I wouldn't bother going back to see the podiatrist because my foot seemed a lot better so I was unpleasantly surprised to discover that my other foot had started to hurt in an all too familiar way. At least before I could blame the problems on my bunion but my left foot is pretty normal if not a bit flatfooted. Pressing hard between my toes while squeezing the bones together, I could reproduce that radiating pain that seems to be another Morton's Neuroma. This probably means I should retire my Vibrams for good and maybe consider something even more supportive and protective than my Merrill Trail Gloves, which I have only just got my feet used to (I'm still getting blisters!). On top of that my head cold seemed to be deciding whether or not to head down to my lungs. So, for my run on Sunday I thought I would drive down to Madrid Río which was flat with no stones or other obstacles and would be bustling with other joggers and cyclists to help pull me along. It was a good plan but I got a bit lost and ended up having to run the first half on hilly and stony paths. Still, it was a good run and my foot hurt less as it wore on - as long as I didn't tread on any stones.

Maybe one of the contributing factors to my foot problems has been continuing to run on my treadmill in spite of the crevasse in the middle of the running surface. The first of my two 5K sets with 3% gradient was OK - although I couldn't figure out whether the extra give in the surface was making it easier or harder - but, during the second, there was an ominous crack and the belt started to develop a line down the middle as it was getting forced into the crack. Best to stop before I break something else, I thought, so I finished the second 5K in the street (still "topless" which raised a few eyebrows in the neigbourhood, considering it was past dark in almost November). I'm still waiting to get it repaired and it looks as though it is unlikely to happen before the race next weekend. But my work is done here, so it doesn't make much difference now...

Monday: -
Tuesday: 2 x 5K @ 3:35 w/ 3% gradient
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:07
Thursday: 2 x 8 x 60% + 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: 3 x (200 - 600 - 1,000) @ 4:00 w/ 9%, 6%, 3% gradient, rest only between sets
Sunday: 10' + 60' @ 4:00 + 10'

Monday, October 27, 2014

La Behobia Week 6 / 8

My 2,000 € treadmill seems to be even less resistant than my minimalist running shoes: after less than 400 kilometres and 5 months, I have already broken the board. As a friend pointed out, maybe I should wear more cushiony shoes not to protect my feet, but to protect my treadmill! I didn't have high expectations of my previous treadmill that was a third of the price but this is a bit too much: at least it is still under guarantee...

I also had a case of toothache which turned out to be due to a wisdom tooth that had decided it was time to push the other teeth around a bit (typically during the night). The verdict is that I will have to have it pulled but I narrowly escaped having it done today as I had an important meeting right afterwards. In the end, I didn't manage to get a word in edgeways, so it probably wouldn't have mattered anyway... Something to look forward to next week.

Saturday was a good opportunity to get some more fun out of my octopus costume - the one I ran San Silvestre in last New Year's Eve. As it was Halloween in the local American School - where they take these things very seriously - I thought I should try to make it a little bit more scary.

It was my youngest son's 10th birthday on Sunday, so I went for my long run in the early evening (while he was doing his homework) so as not to miss any of it. I really enjoyed the run - even though we are practically in November, it has been quite hot during the day, so it was nice and cool in the Casa del Campo with breathtaking views of Madrid as I ran past the cable cars down the long hill which I would have to run back up on the way back.

Monday: 40' @ 4:27
Tuesday: 1K + 3K + 2K + 3K + 1K @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest
Wednesday: 3 x 12 x 65% + 40' @ 4:27
Thursday: 40' @ 4:27
Friday: La Behobia part I @ 4:27
Saturday: 3 x (800 - 400 - 200 - 1,000) @ 4:00 w/ 3%, 6%, 9%, 3% gradient, 1' rest
Sunday: 100' w/ bigger hills @ 4:33

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Survival Zombie Poblete

In the end I just couldn't resist the opportunity to see the faces of the local manchegos as more than 1,000 people (and zombies) descended on the otherwise sleepy little village of Poblete, possibly the very same village whose name Don Quixote could not recall. It was going to be at least a two Red Bull effort as it didn't start until 11 pm and went on (supposing you survived that long) until 7 am the next morning.

The "survivors" in our group (myself, my wife, Cristina, Josema, Angel, Patricia and Omar) gathered at the town hall while my sister-in-law and her husband were preparing to join the hoards of zombies from whom we would be trying to escape. We were told that a kind of vaccine had been found - it didn't stop you dying if you came into contact with a zombie, but at least you didn't become one of them - and that we had to help ensure its safe passage to Madrid, where it could be produced in large quantities. The vaccine was in a safe and it was our mission to discover the 8 numbers in the combination to the safe by talking to people at various locations around the village. But, just at that moment there was a scuffle and the spokesperson was thrown off the balcony. Then, a "Z" - the zombies who can run - jumped into the crowd and everyone scattered. In the ensuing chaos I managed to knock my wife's glasses off and give her a black eye (see video)!

The next hour or so we wandered pretty aimlessly around the village trying to find the first clue. I remember this bit being quite slow and boring at the time but it is also what I most remember looking back on it now. It was a strange and liberating experience to be wandering all around a village at night, finding obscure cross country paths and passing through gaps in fences in order to avoid being detected. It later turned out that the game didn't really start until some hours later, by which time everyone had had a chance to scout out the village. Having run through the village more times than I can remember (as it is only 5 km away from where my parents-in-law live) I knew how to get to the ancient church on the hill, which I was convinced would form part of the story. We got to the right place alright, but just not at the right moment: this would be the scene of the grand finale, once all the clues had been found and the safe unlocked. (Apparently it involved dipping your head in a bath of "blood" so as to be inoculated against the zombies, but most of us didn't get that far.)

All the bars were open all night long and played the role of being safe houses with one important caveat: if you entered one while being chased by a zombie, everyone was then at risk (I guess that this would make you very unpopular). The rules also said that anyone drunk or on drugs would be disqualified from the game and, while it was OK to have the odd drink, it was true that everyone behaved themselves pretty well. Of course it was also against the rules to attack zombies - if they touched you or you found yourself sealed off by a hoard of them, then you had to consider yourself undead. Perhaps partly due to the late opening of the bars but also out of curiosity I suppose, the whole of Poblete seemed to be out on the street to watch. We overheard one little girl say "The one time they organize an event in the village and we aren't taking part".

It wasn't too difficult to find out where to go to find the clues as there were either signs of activity or groups of people standing around trying to figure out how to get in. Frustration is definitely one of the elements the organizers deliberately play around with. It might be that you had to come back at a different time or after having obtained a piece of information first from somewhere else; or it might just be that there just wasn't room for more than one person in each group to enter. I got to go into one building with 3 people from our group, where we had to search a "dead" body lying on a table before he jumped up and "unkilled" us. Josema got such a start that he frantically grabbed something from his pocket - it turned out to be the bag with all the little pieces of paper with the clue on (which we duly handed back to give the others a chance). There was, of course, a secondary market in trading clues so it wasn't long before some people had all 8 numbers. Little did they know that you had to actually be in possession of all the corresponding bits of paper to have a chance of winning.

The modus operandi of the zombies was as follows: Z's would round up survivors like sheep and herd them into alleyways that were cut off by the hoards. This was the fate that befell Cristina, when she ran into - of all "people" - my brother-in-law. As he had never met Cristina but she had seen a photo of him with his zombie makeup, he was surprised when she exclaimed, "You're Rob's brother-in-law!". I think he had a great time puteando a la gente.

At about the same time as Cristina was being rounded up, another Z started chasing after me and my wife. I heard her shout out and yet the Z was still some way behind her. She was limping and said that she had felt as though something had hit her leg. It turned out that she had torn a muscle, so in the end, between the black eye and the limp, she looked more like a zombie than some of the zombies themselves.

It was clear that the evening was over for both of us, but in spite of the injuries sustained we both thoroughly enjoyed it (easy for me to say). Before calling it a night, we decided to gather by the town hall where we had been told that there would be an announcement at 3:30 am. We were ordered into lines by the military who arrived in a (real) tank. Then a Z came running towards us and was shot down several times by the soldier's machine guns, but each time he would get up again. Finally, he jumped to his feet and ran after an unsuspecting survivor (not for long). It was our cue to limp slowly back to the headquarters in the local sports hall where we had parked the car. We moved so slowly that a hoard of zombies heading back with their fresh kills to be made-up actually overtook us, but they were not very hungry so I managed to conserve my status as a survivor, evidenced by the green bandana I had wrapped around my arm. We caught up with my sister-in-law and her husband, who had had a thoroughly good time and were just getting ready to go out on the prowl again. They told us that several survivors had cheated either by concealing their bandana or by simply running off before the green bandana could be exchanged for the red one, signifying zombie status. They also told us of one guy who had got very angry when he was caught, as he had been very close to obtaining all the clues.

I would love to have been one of the Z's and I think that I have the speed and stamina necessary, as well as being able to roar at the top of my lungs as I have sometimes been known to do in the closing meters of a race. It also helps to be fairly tall and imposing. I emailed the organization offering my services and they said that all the Z's were members of the organization and had a lot of experience, but that I could always send in my CV. I'm not sure whether they would find anything particularly relevant on my CV or, indeed, what kind of thing they are expecting to find (avid Real Dungeons & Dragons player?). Who knows, if things don't work out in the bank maybe I have a calling there... The next event is a full 48 hour affair in Murcia...

I nearly forgot to mention: next time we must remember that eating fabada is not a good a good idea. We were even more rotten inside than the zombies.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

La Behobia Week 5 / 8

On the one hand it was a bit of a slack week between my parents being in town and having to escape from hoards of zombies at the weekend (more on this later). On the other hand, I was pleased with the result of my aerobic test - the usual 20 laps round the football pitch at a controlled heart rate of 172 bpm. It wasn't my best ever time but it was one of the best, and certainly the best this year. The original idea was that it was an indication of my Half Marathon pace although I believe this less and less and it is now just a good benchmark to gauge my fitness and training by. The race I am training for is anything but like running round a nice flat tartan track so the question will be whether the investment in hill and weight sessions pays off.

Monday: 40' easy
Tuesday: 7K aerobic test in 25:54 (3:40, 171 bpm average, 174 maximum)
Wednesday: 30' @ 4:27 + 10' stairs
Thursday: 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: Survival Zombie Poblete
Sunday: -

Monday, October 13, 2014

La Behobia Week 4 / 8

I went back to another of my classic workouts of recent times: the split 10K which is broken down into 1, 2 and 3 km sections with a short rest in between. I like this workout because it is psychologically tolerable but not that much less than running a 10K at race pace - in the end I cover 10K in 39 minutes including the 4 one minute rests. The fourth season of Homeland has just started, and not a moment too soon.

On Saturday we took the kids again to swimming classes at my work so I took advantage of the time to do my hill based interval workout on the treadmill in my work gym (as opposed to at home). I found that the gradient was indeed steeper than on my home treadmill (10% = 6 degrees versus 5 degrees at home versus correct value of 5.5 degrees). Taking this into account I adjusted the grades I ran the 800m, 400m, 200m and 1 km sections at to 3%, 6%, 9% and 3% respectively (instead of 4%, 7%, 10% and 4% as I would have set my home treadmill).

I was a bit off my food on Saturday afternoon - maybe I had a touch of what kept my eldest son away from School for the whole week - so I didn't have any dinner. The next morning I had to practically run straight of bed if I was going to get in my 90 minutes before the family commitments kicked in. After just 15 minutes I felt listless and without any energy and had to lie down. Also, if truth be told, I felt very unmotivated. Lately things at work have been pretty stressful and running usually helps unplug the brain for much needed self-maintenance, but sometimes the stress is too much and negative thoughts spill over into my runs. It's just like with any muscle - overtax it and it starts to fail, undertax it and it becomes soft. I knew that I would be in a stinking bad mood for the rest of the day if I didn't finish - whether I decided to bin the workout or had it hanging over me as a "to do" for the rest of the day. I wouldn't be fair to put my family through that, so I decided to push on. It felt slow and sluggish but - I suppose as I digested my breakfast - I got a second wind with about 30 minutes to go. In the end my average pace was 4:27 - my current "easy" pace - so it wasn't too shabby after all. I felt very tired afterwards though! I couldn't help thinking that, this time last year, I would have felt like that after a 35 km run, not a 20 km run.

Monday: -
Tuesday: 1K + 3K + 2K + 3K + 1K @ 3:30 w/ 1' rest
Wednesday: 4 x 10 x 70%
Thursday: 40' easy
Friday: 40' @ 4:15
Saturday: 2 x (800 - 400 - 200 - 1,00) @ 4:00 w/ 3%, 6%, 9%, 3% gradient
Sunday: 90' w/ hills @ 4:27

Thursday, October 9, 2014

La Behobia Week 3 / 8

After the summer break it was time to go back to the podiatrist to take stock oh how my foot problems had evolved. The neuroma is still there but I only notice it if I squeeze in the right spot or if I happen to land right on top of a stone. I admitted that I had gone back to running in my Vibrams on roads and indoors but that I would go back to a more cushioned shoe at the first sign of any pain. He said that I had managed the situation very well and that it must have been quite difficult for me - he understands perfectly the symbiosis between a runner and his running shoes... The next step is to try some more supportive work shoes and to go back in a month: if there has been no improvement or indeed a regression, then he'll look at getting me some orthotics made - at this point only for walking around in. He said he preferred not to mess with how someone ran unless it was absolutely necessary, referring to the recent Marathon World Record being held by someone who (allegedly) heel strikes against the current popular wisdom. (I explained that I thought the angle of the shin to the ground was more significant than the angle of the foot.) So I bought some normal dress shoes for the first time in years but decided to size up (12 UK) to leave ample room for my bunion - it feels so great to have my toes free to move even if I have to put up with a heel counter (which tends to hurt my knees and contribute to my bad posture). They also happen to be Clarks (remember I live in Spain) - I think the last pair I wore were actually bought for me by my mum! I also felt more inclined to Clarks as the founder of Vivobarefoot shoes is none other than Galahad Clark, grandson of the original Clark (it sort of feels like there should be a "Sir" in their somewhere).

Anyway, after all these months I was at last able to do my intervals at the same intensity that I was doing them before my relative break: six lots of 1 mile (1.6 km) in 5:28. There are few things I find more satisfying in training than lying in bed after a session like this and feeling tiny popping sensations all over my legs as the muscles shake themselves down and prepare to rebuild themselves, only this time to be more resilient. I tend to sleep very well afterwards although I often wake up much earlier than usual.

Of course, I ran those intervals on the flat (1% incline) but I am training for a hilly race, so my second quality workout substituted speed for hills. Another of the advantages of the treadmill is that you can precisely control the length and grade of the hills you run up although, arguably, running downhill has it's own demands and should also be trained for. This week we took the kids to some new swimming classes at the work gym, which now opens at the weekend. While they were swimming (they actually enjoyed the class for the first time; they are always complaining about going) I did my workout which consisted of 6 sets of 200 and 400 meters at 15 kph and 12% and 10% respectively. I'd come up with this by using Jack Daniel's table to equate the effort to running at 20 and 19 kph on the level. I suppose that this depends quite a lot on how much the runner weighs - readers of this blog will know how much I complain about hills, something that is no doubt connected to my 85 kgs. In spite of managing this workout on my home treadmill, it was too much for me on the work one. My wife, who was running on the neighbouring treadmill, asked me if I was OK and the fact that it took me about a minute to even be able to answer her, so out of breath was I, did nothing to reassure her. I decided to do the rest of the workout at 8%. When I got home, I used my Kindle Fire to check the gradient of my treadmill and, in spite of having calibrated it, a 10% grade appeared to be more like 8.75%; I'm curious to see whether what my Kindle Fire has to say about the work treadmill.

That just leaves the long(ish) run on Sunday. I chose the same route that two weeks ago had proved challenging for just 60 minutes (I think I was coming down with something) and tacked on an extra 10 minutes each way. It felt much much better than last time and I kept a pretty constant speed (hills permitting). What was not very constant though, was my heart rate. I decided to wear a heart rate monitor - something I had got out of the habit of doing because I felt that I was gauging my efforts better by feel - as I wanted to see how my fitness was progressing. My heart rate started off nice and low (140-150 bpm) and held at 150 for quite a while, but then started to creep up to even Marathon levels. I think that this just reflects the need to keep on working on these long runs and extending the time for which I can comfortably maintain a reasonable pace. I'm clearly not in the same shape I was in this time last year but it's only been three weeks and things have been getting better quite quickly, so I am at least confident I will be able to feel pleased with my performance even if it is not on par with a personal best.

Monday: 30' @ 39 kph on tri bike
Tuesday: 6 x 1,600 @ 3:25 w/ 1' rest
Wednesday: 2 x 8 x 60% explosive + 20' @ 4:27
Thursday: 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: 6 x (200 - 400) @ 4:00 w/ 8%-10% gradient
Sunday: 80' w/ hills (18.12 km @ 4:24)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

La Behobia Week 2 / 8

At last I feel like I am returning to something similar to the form I was in earlier this year, before I started having problems with my foot (and before I went on holiday). The same workouts I found hard to complete last week were much more doable this week.

Now that I finally have my triathlon bike back (although I am still waiting to hear the verdict from Zipp on the disc wheel) I went for a slightly longer ride to try out the new position with the upwardly pointing J-aerobars which do indeed seem more comfortable and to allow me to apply more power.

Apart from the two quality workouts (one speed, one with hills) which were a more successful repeat of last week, I was in a conference in Barcelona during the second half of the week and in Ciudad Real at the weekend. Not really knowing where to go in Barcelona nor having the time to start from anywhere but the hotel, I did a kind of random run in the vague direction of the sea then in search of the Familia Sagrada (Gaudí's gothic cathedral) and ended up finding neither. It was so fraught with pedestrians, bikes and especially traffic lights that I had to stop almost every couple of minutes - really not a very exercise friendly city (my conclusion probably being somewhat biased by all the nonsense going on right now about an illegal referendum for the separation of Cataluña). All the stopping meant that I recovered enough to be able to run faster than I would have done normally, so - GPS error permitting - I actually ran 10K in just over 38 minutes. I thought of it more like interval training than as a "tempo run".

I enjoyed the longish run I did in Ciudad Real a lot more. The previous Sunday I had struggled to run an hour at a slower speed (admittedly on a hotter day with more hills) so I was relieved to be able to put that down to an anomaly. It was actually raining - very unusual in those parts - so I was the only one mad enough to be outside but it was a good deal more pleasant, I can tell you, than running in the sun: I still needed a cold shower to cool down afterwards. My run took me through the nearby village of Poblete which will be the venue of a Zombie Holocaust next weekend, that a friend of mine is taking part in. If it weren't for the date then I would be very tempted.

Monday: short ride on tri bike
Tuesday: 6 x 1,6000m @ 3:30 (5 sets) - 3:25 (one set)
Wednesday: weights 3 x 12 x 65%
Thursday: 10K in 38:10 (@ 3:49 stopping for traffic lights)
Friday: -
Saturday: 6 x (400-200), 400 @ 4:00 w/ 10%, 200 @ 4:00 w/ 12%
Sunday: 16.71 km in 70' (@ 4:11)

Monday, September 22, 2014

La Behobia Week 1 / 8

Now I have the first "proper" week of training under my belt I have a better idea of what shape I am in and what constitutes a realistic plan for the next 7 weeks.

I already posted about my experience on the AlterG. One of the good things about training for a hilly race is that you don't really need an anti-gravity treadmill to do an "overspeed" workout - anything with a flat gradient qualifies. I did my first intervals since May on Tuesday - 6 lots of 1 mile - and it showed. I managed to complete them allowing for some extra recovery in between the first 3 and the second 3 but, if I had been doing these at 17.5 kph (3:25 min/km) without too much difficulty back in May, it was quite a struggle to finish them at 17 kph (3:30 min/km).

I was able to step up my weights on Wednesday and I didn't suffer so long from the after effects. Thursday was an impromptu day off as I had to go to two funerals: one I already knew about (Emilio Botín) but the other was quite a shock - I discovered that day that a colleague of mine had died the night before.

Using Jack Daniels's calculator I worked out that running 15 kph (4:00 min/km) up a hill with 10% gradient was considered to be equivalent to running at 19 kph (3:10 min/km) on the flat. So I took one of my speed interval workouts from earlier in the year and adapted it for developing hill strength instead. I'm not sure if I agree with Jack Daniel's calculations because it was a real bastard.

This Saturday I ran the second half of the Behobia course on my treadmill, simulating all the ups and as much of the downs as possible (the limit is 12.9 kph with a -3% gradient). The second half seems a lot easier although there was quite a sharp climb just at the point where I'll be tired from the previous 16 km although it seemed to be downhill from there on in.

Finally, on Sunday I ran down to the Casa de Campo where there are enough hills without needing to simulate them. Encouraged by the favourable progression of my foot, I decided to wear my Vibram Spyridons which provide a little more protection than the Seeyas but less than the Merrill Trail Gloves (which, I have to say, I really do not enjoy running in as they give me blisters and they smell). It turned out not to be such a good idea as I stepped on a stone just in the spot where I have the neuroma on my right foot and, for good measure, I stepped on another stone with the other foot and started to get a similar pain which made me worry that I had two screwed feet. I don't know whether it was feeling depressed about this, the fact that I had not run continuously for longer than 40 minutes for the last 6 months or whether I was coming down with something. I felt pretty crap and washed out for the rest of the day and it's true that the rest of my family had had some kind of virus, leading me to believe that the latter was to blame.

I didn't manage to convince the family to go down to the bike show (la fería de la bicicleta) but I didn't try to hard as I didn't want to end up spending any money. I did finally get my triathlon bike back although the disc wheel is being investigated by ZIPP to see why it has a bit of play and makes that disconcerting creaking sound. I went for a quick spin on it and the initial conclusion is that the aero extensions with a J-bend are much more comfortable, allow me to get down low as well as being able to apply more power. They just don't look quite as cool as the S-bend bars that came with the bike.

Monday: 30' AlterG @ 4:27 - 3:10 w/ 80% - 100% bodyweight
Tuesday: 2 x 3 x 1,6000m @ 3:25 (one set) - 3:30 (5 sets)
Wednesday: weights 3 x 15 x 60%, 40' @ 4:27
Thursday: -
Friday: 6 x (400-200), 400 @ 4:00 w/ 10%, 200 @ 4:00 w/ 12%
Saturday: Behobia II (10.2 km @ 4:27 w/ 130m ascent)
Sunday: 13.3 km in 60'

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Walking on, walking on the moon...

I once read a book called "Blue Ocean Strategy" (which I unfortunately keep misremembering as "Blue Sky Strategy") which puts forward the idea that you should look for wide open oceans to compete in rather than densely populated jungles. The much cited Cirque de Soleil is an example of this - by combining aspects of theater and circus they created a show which appealed to a different audience and for which they could sell tickets at a premium.

So what would happen if the inventor of the bouncy castle were to join forces with the inventor of the treadmill? They would probably come up with something like the AlterG:

The AlterG is an "anti-gravity treadmill" which allows you to specify not only how fast you'd like to run but also how much you'd like to weigh (although it can't change how much you appear to weigh). You wear a pair of neoprene shorts which zip onto the machine, forming a sort of bubble in which you run: by increasing the pressure of the air in the bubble you can achieve weightlessness. There are several reasons why you might want to do this. The most obvious is if you are injured. Alistair Brownlee, the current Olympic Triathlon Champion, used one of these devices to run back to health after tearing his Achilles Tendon, by reducing the associated impact forces. Even for non-injured athletes, it is useful to be able to run at higher speeds without the corresponding muscle damage. In this way, you can train and ingrain the biomechanics of race pace and above.

There are only 12 of these machines in Spain of which only four can be found in Madrid. One of them happens to be owned by a friend and ex-colleague of mine, Antonio Ciardo. Antonio recently left the bank to concentrate on his osteopathy clinic which, judging by his clientele and his swanky new premises in the posh part of town, looks like it was a very good decision. He invited me to try out last night and warned me to bring a towel as I was likely to work up a sweat.

Love the decoration
At first it feels a little strange to be so constrained but I soon got used to it. Once you step on to the belt and get zipped in, the treadmill calibrates itself based on your weight. The first thing we tried was reducing my weight to just 20% - just a tad more than what it would be on the Moon - and, of course, my feet hardly touched the ground. It reminded me of a recurring dream I have where I can't quite fly but I can run really fast effortlessly by just occasionally tapping the ground with my foot. Then we started piling on the pounds until I weighed only 80% of my normal weight - about 17 kilos lighter. After Moonwalking, even a 20% discount seemed depressingly unnoticeable, although I was able to run at my Marathon pace of 15 km/h (4:00 min/km) while still keeping my pulse very low (less than 140). It did start to get quite hot in there after a while - Antonio explained to me that he still has to set up the ventilation - so my pulse gradually crept up. This model designed for rehabilitation has a maximum speed of 19.2 km/h which I tested out at 80% body weight. It was still hard to run at that speed - after all, you still have to move your legs quite fast - but the impact was noticeably lower and I was able to concentrate more on form. After the problems I have been having with my feet (Hallux Limitus, Morton's Neuroma) I was interested to see whether the pain was more likely to be provoked by a different running gait at high speed, or by higher impact forces - the AlterG allowed me to decouple these two effects and seemed to confirm my suspicion that the latter was more to blame.

One aspect that I found interesting was that the machine obliged you to run upright and to minimize hip movements laterally, transversely as well as vertically, especially when the skirt was inflated (that's to say, when running with less than 100% body weight). This strikes me as a good thing as far as running technique goes. For the second half of the workout I ran at 17 kph (3:30 min/km) or just over 10K pace and then gradually put the weight back on. It was so depressing!! I felt so much heavier and more sluggish than I had before I started and, as the cushion deflated, my hips started to move around much more - left, right, backwards, forwards, not to mention bouncing up and down more. Antonio had stressed that it was important to return to weightfulness before stepping off, otherwise the shock might make me lose balance. However, I wish I had left with the memory of lightness as it was so much more pleasant.

Luckily I don't have too much of a need for one of these things (my wife asked me if I would be buying one!) - apart from being extraordinarily expensive, I'm just glad that I am not injured at the moment (touch wood). But it would have come in very handy as a way to get back to weight bearing when I got a stress fracture in my foot.

Monday, September 15, 2014

La Behobia Week 0 / 8

It's about time I made peace with those "annoying hills" that I like so much to complain about, especially now that I am preparing a hilly race.

The first step was to start doing weights again - probably a good thing anyway - so I went to the gym on Thursday and did a fairly light (2x12x50% RM) workout with squats, calf raises, leg curls and leg extensions. Even so I was still walking like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz on Sunday!

One of the cool things about my treadmill is that you can program it to follow a route that you design and it then sets the incline appropriately all the while showing you stills from the Google Streetview as you run. It's a surprisingly effective way of distracting you from the boredom of running indoors. I drew the Behobia course in two sections of 10 kilometers each (part I and part II) and did the first of these on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday, we were in Salamanca with some friends where we bought some excellent jamón and I went on another run which made the one on Saturday seem easy. I've been taking it easy for long enough now that I have to go through the process of hardening the skin on my feel all over again, to which the blisters I obtained at the weekend were testament.

I've still got a long way to go but now I feel ready to start my 8 week training schedule (TBD!)

Monday: 40' @ 4:27
Tuesday: 15' easy + 20 @ 4:27
Wednesday: 40' @ 4:27
Thursday: Weights 2x12x50%, 40' @ 4:27
Friday: -
Saturday: Behobia part I (10 km @ 4:34 w/ 184 m ascent)
Sunday: 10.5 km @ 4:29 w/ 276 m ascent

Sunday, September 14, 2014


As you may know, I kickstarted my first project in 2012 - the Altum dress shoes - basically zero drop shoes that I could wear to work (and in fact still do). Although they kickstarted well, it seems like they ran out of steam (or maybe fell out with each other) because there is no news on that front and meanwhile several other credible options have come to market.

I was very tempted by the Fly6 Kickstarter project but decided to wait until they went to market. I was reminded of it when in Singapore, where every taxi driver has a camera recording everything that happens on a loop, just in case there is an accident. Ever wondered why there are so many accidents on Youtube in Russia? Well, its because everybody has one of these little cameras - it might even be a legal requirement. The Fly6 is an equivalent for bikes which faces backwards, naturally, as this is the most likely source of any problems you might have. It masquerades as a red light but don't be fooled - it has a decent quality camera with a very wide angle. It also has a sensor which detects whether your bike has been lying down for more than a few seconds, after which it waits a further hour before automatically shutting down, thereby conserving any important footage just in case you are not in a position to stop the camera yourself. Hopefully it will never come in handy but it could be interesting to catch cars driving dangerously close or, for that matter, fellow triathletes drafting in non-drafting races (they have even thought of including mounts for aero seat posts in the package). On the website there are a number of quite amusing as well as shocking videos of people driving badly, people falling of bikes spectacularly as well as - in one particular case - a woman being groped by a passing motorcyclist!

As a result of buying the production model Fly6, I was just browsing Kickstarter when I came across a fascinating product. It sounded a little too good to be true until I read the review by Steve Magness on his blog. The runScribe is a tiny little device that you hook on to the back of your running shoe which is able to measure such things as contact time, stride length as well as how much you pronate. The applications are pretty much endless: you can compare shoes, analyse differences between your feet, see what happens to your stride length as you tire, try out different running styles etc. As well as this, they are planning to harvest all the data into a Big Database which they can use to analyse trends and try to reach unbiased conclusions on which shoes are best for preventing injuries and other such questions. Of course, it is also good business sense that they set up a subscription model rather than a one off payment for the device itself, but they claim that this will be low-cost or no-cost and, if the data proves to be useful to shoe companies, this may well be the case. Anyway, the Kickstarter still has a few days to go so, if you are interested, you can grab one for yourself and have a share in the excitement of what I think could be a groundbreaking project. If you'd rather wait for the early adopters like myself to get through all the teething problems then keep an eye out for when this product hits the shelves.

UPDATE: In spite of the Kickstarter campaign being over, you can still get hold of a pre-sale runScribe from their website.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Hello again

In the past I have tended to at least mention the fact I was going on holiday on this blog, if not to actually keep on posting, albeit slightly less frequently. Much the same can be said about my "training" which I have let slip to unfamiliar levels of slackdom. We've been in Malaysia, Singapore and Borneo where doing any kind of sport was quite inconvenient - partly due to the humidity and partly due to lack of opportunity (for example, we spent several days on an island which only permitted a circuit of about 500m!). I did some swimming (with sharks) and a few runs on a treadmill but it was probably about time anyway that I took a real break from training. Previously I had an unwritten rule that I would not take more than 1 consecutive day off training, something I have managed to stick to with the exception of the odd Marathon or sickness and, even then, never more than 2. This belies a fear that I will get used to the luxury of not training and just fall back into my old ways. Well, I don't think that is going to be an issue - I actually enjoyed running yesterday for the first time in months, back on my home treadmill and back in my favourite shoes, the Vibram Seeyas. I've decided to go back to the Vibrams as long as I don't get that pain from the Morton's Neuroma again - hopefully, I can build back to a reasonable level in time for the Behobia race in San Sebastian.

Just before going on holiday, I went for another long ride with Dani - this time, the same route but in reverse. And this time, with enough cereal bars and gels to get me up the hills. I was more conservative going up the first puerto to avoid the embarrassment I suffered the week before when I ran out of steam going up the second one. The extra fuel seemed to do the trick as well as perhaps being a bit more used to the bike. I was also a bit more conservative going down and, even so, managed to lose my water bottle going over a bump. You can see from the video I took that the road is some state of disrepair...

For those of you who can read in Spanish (or, for that matter, know how to work Google Translate) Dani did an excellent write up on his blog which you can read here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Perfect day

Courtesy of Dani
It says something that the verb "to abstain" when used without specifying from what, is generally understood to refer to the non-drinking of alcohol. Sitting outside in a terrace on a lovely day in Madrid, I ordered a cool alcohol free beer and it was sublime: I thought that this was going to be a breeze. It was only after I had greedily gulped it down that I noticed that familiar pleasant buzz and realized that I had been cheated! It did contain alcohol after all. So much for my drought. Still, I find that it is harder to do a little of something than not at all but, having said that, I'm sticking to my plan. My belly already feels better for it, although it is probably a placebo effect. Either that, or the "paliza" I endured on the bike the next day helped trim the fat.

I met up with Dani and Oscar at precisely 8 am the next day (it's nice to have a punctual Spanish friend at last!) and we headed off to la Sierra ("the saw" - the mountain range to the north of Madrid). Manolo was not quite so punctual but it is often the way that the person who has the least distance to travel arrives last, as they don't have to plan so far ahead. I had turned up in a culotte which inadvertently showed a bit too much of my culo because some of the seams had come a bit undone so, after a bit of obligatory ribbing, we set off.

In spite of starting at an altitude of just over 1,000 m, the first part of the ride was very flat. I'd ridden around here once before, with my ex-trainer, Jonathan who used to live in Collado Mediano. I'd forgotten just how much it helps to be drafting (or chupando rueda - sucking the wheel) especially behind Dani who, as a basketball player turned triathlete, moves about as much air as a small truck. At one point a couple of randoms joined onto the back of our little procession. I have no problem with people joining in but one of them made me a bit nervous as he kept on creeping up on my inside every time I had to brake or freewheel to avoid running into Dani's back tire.

By the time we got to the pretty little village of Miraflores ("look at flowers"), we were back to just the four of us. From there we started our ascent of the puerto (mountain pass) of Morcuera. I had only climbed this once before, on a Mountain Bike with my then boss, who insisted on chugging up the hill with full suspension. I remember going down to be quite hair raising and that was with the relative comfort of a Mountain Bike - I wasn't sure what it would be like to fly down on a Road Bike, on which you feel every little bump in the road.

I found that it seemed easier to get into a certain rhythm and I started to pull away from the others. I kept searching for a lower gear (oval rings with 39 teeth on the front, 25 teeth on the back) but my bike was unable to produce one so it meant that I went up at a relatively quick pace. At least it would be over sooner - I can't say I enjoy pedaling uphill. I finally got the the top some way ahead of the others and had some time to myself to enjoy my achievement. I realized that I hadn't spent more than 2 consecutive hours in the saddle (apart from the Half Ironman itself) and that I had actually been a bit nervous before the ride that I would end up holding everyone else up.

Such a perfect day
We regrouped before starting the descent. It was exhilarating bombing down the hills at some unfathomable speed until, on a level curve, I got overtaken by a car which then proceeded to block me all the way down. I tried to get past it but, on the first attempt, a troupe of motorbikes happened to be coming up the other way (they seem to get off on the bends) and, on the second, a bull was in the road. At least, I thought it was a bull because in England (most) cows don't have horns as far as I know, so I am culturally programmed to assume that anything bovine with horns is a bull. I was later informed that it was a cow but, at that speed, it wouldn't have made much difference had it been a sheep. On the third attempt, I managed to get past the car and enjoy an unfettered blistering descent until the road ran out of hills.

We stopped off in Rascafría ("cold chill") where the others had a coke and I abstained (this time from sugary drinks). Mistake. I asked "how much further" and Dani explained that we were going up one more puerto before heading back. I vaguely remembered him saying something about dos puertos in his email but my oxygen deprived brain had inconveniently forgotten the fact as I was climbing the first one. He told us an anecdote of another Robert who had raced up the first puerto only to ran out of gas on the second. Oscar added that this second one was more challenging mentally as it appeared to go on and on for ever. Just to finish it off, Dani reminded us that it would also be a lot hotter now, as the sun had fully risen.

After a few kilometers llaneando (on the level), the sign saying "10 km of puerto to go, 7% gradient" came into view. The sensible thing to do would have been to hang back and try to hang on to the group, but the gear I was in (the easiest one) meant that it felt somehow harder on my tired muscles to go at their speed. So with a bit of bravado I set off at what felt like a comfortable rhythm with shouts of "You're crazy! this is a puerto!" coming from behind. I said that they would probably see me again in 5 minutes, half believing what I was saying and half not but certainly totally hoping that I would pull it off. I'm not sure whether it was even as many as 5 minutes later, but I suddenly ran out of steam and couldn't keep up the rhythm any longer. This meant that I had to result to the forced two-stroke rhythm I had been trying to avoid. I heard the whirring of Dani's chain approaching and soon he and Manolo passed me by. After a while I stopped and stood straddling the bike on shaky legs while Oscar went past. He slowed a little for me to catch up but then I once more found myself going slightly faster only to have to stop again to recover. In this way I made my way up the mountain. Now on my own, I wondered whether the plan was to go down the same side of the mountain, in which case the temptation to stop and coast down was enormous. I have to say that I felt embarrassed to have gone off like an inexperienced kid and the punctuality in me made me feel bad that people were waiting for me. I also knew that I'd be very angry with myself and even more embarrassed if I didn't finish the damn thing. Onward and upwards I pressed, stopping every 500 m or so. With 2 km to go, I started counting down from 400 breaths (I never normally start a count down the finish line so high) with a little standing break every 100. At last, I made it to the top where Dani gave me a gel which started to course around my veins and would give me back my legs after a few kilometers drafting behind him.

We decided to go on the flat before coasting practically all of the rest of the way back to our starting point. I definitely preferred to do it that way round, rather than have to do any more work after the descent. Having said that, the gel had started to work its wonders by then and I was feeling much better (but not so much that I would have been up to another bloody puerto!).

I felt quite pleased to have completed a challenging ride - 100 kms, about 3 and a half hours in the saddle and two ascents of about 1000 m, all at altitudes of 1000 - 2000 m. Next time I'll make sure I have a hearty dinner the night before and that I take enough fuel for the ride...

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Statement of Intent

Sometimes it is easier to achieve a goal if you make it public; the shame of not meeting it is motivation in itself (although, it is what I would call a double-negative motivation). With the summer heat and lack of any competitions on the immediate horizon (not to mention my foot problem), I have cut down radically on intensity and it is showing. I'm starting to put on a bit of weight and, unchecked, it could be quite annoying to get rid of after the summer. So I hereby state that I will be abstaining from all alcohol as well as eating more carefully until further notice (and at least until the end of September). I went for a year and a half without touching a drop, so I know it's not that difficult. My vice is the tinto de verano which is a mixture of extremely cheap, bad quality wine (Don Simon) with a watered down lemonade (Casera) - at least the lemonade has zero calories. It is so refreshing that it is all too easy to drink, especially after a sweaty cycle ride. So no more!

I was just thinking about New York this morning - I re-read my own write up of the Marathon I ran last November to relive the experience. It's a while since I last read it so it was quite a coincidence that I received just now an invitation to speak at a conference in New York in December! I can't really say no to that. (Just as well I had already turned down a similar invitation for the same dates in Amsterdam, much as I like Amsterdam it is not New York.)

I've been cycling in to work a fair bit the last few weeks, making the most of having the roads to myself now that everyone else from Madrid seems to have gone to the beach already. This weekend I have agreed, albeit with some trepidation, to go on a fairly challenging ride by my recent standards with Dani and his group of fellow triathletes. We will be taking in a few puertos (or, "annoying hills" as I call them) along the way which I am looking forward to going down and it will be the longest I have spent in the saddle probably since the Ironman itself, over 3 years ago.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


It was only a matter of time before I found a good enough excuse to buy some Huaraches - the sandals worn by the running tribe of Tarahumaras described in Chris McDougal's best-selling "Born to Run" book. The excuse is that I will soon be going on holiday to Malaysia where it will be ridiculously humid and I know from past experience that it is not fun running with extremely sweaty feet. Arguably, it is not much fun running in those kind of conditions - full stop. To be honest, I'm not sure if I will actually run in them, but I will certainly wear them for walking around as a much more comfortable alternative to the flip flops de rigeur and I'll take it from there.

The other excuse was that I recently discovered that the shop where I recently bought my Merrell Trail Gloves (which, incidentally, are still rubbing the tops of my feet when I run at any kind of lively pace, even with socks) are producing a variation on the Huaraches that tries to combine the best of tradition and technology. Lastly, it just so happened that I was thinking about them when a colleague told me that he had just bought some and it just so happened that I had to get my vaccines done not too far from the shop...

The LightRun Sandals are made from a 5mm Vibram sole (what else?) with a soft leather foot bed and a leather strap to hold your foot in place. They look a little Jesusy (I went for the brown ones) but they are quite elegant if you like that sort of thing. So far I haven't tried running in them but the initial reports are that they are very comfy. I'll keep you posted but in the meantime, here is a link to the product:

Thursday, July 31, 2014

If it ain't fixed don't broke it

My various bikes have been passing through the LBS (Local Bike Store) in a steady procession over the last few weeks. First up was the Conor mountain bike I keep up in Asturias which finally succumbed to the humidity, in spite of being kept indoors. The gear cables had completely rusted up and I ended up having to have the cables and the controls replaced. But just like when you go to the doctor for a routine checkup and he finds something completely asymptomatic that you didn't know you had, it turned out that the chain had stretched so much that the the cogs on the back and the front had all worn out prematurely, so I basically had to have the whole drive chain and cranks replaced too! I couldn't help thinking about the old adage of whether an axe with a new handle and stone is still the same axe or not. Just when I was worrying whether I should have scrapped the bike entirely and bought a new one instead, the total bill turned out to be only €150 (the bike cost €500 originally). Still, that's €150 I wasn't counting on spending. The good news is that, as a result, I now have permission to keep the bike in a room upstairs which should hopefully avoid the humidity problem recurring; the chain stretching is another matter - I'm surprised, really, that I had done enough kilometers on it for it to have become so chronic. Perhaps the lower end components on the bike wear out that much more quickly.

After the cautionary tale of not replacing the chain in time, I bought a little device to measure how much give there is in a bike chain. Armed with my new gadget I set about measuring the chains of my other bikes and, sure enough, almost all of them needed replacing, some more urgently than others. Next up was the Giant (or "Gant" as my wife refers to it) road bike for which the chain measuring tool's verdict was "replace immediately". Within two seconds of handing it over to the LBS, the mechanic noticed that the head assembly was loose - thank goodness he had spotted it as the frame could have ended up becoming damaged as well as it leading to a very nasty accident if it had decided to give while descending a hill, for example. He told me off (nicely) for letting my chain accumulate so much gunk but thought that I had probably got away with not having to replace the sprockets or chain rings. He also noticed that I had the handlebars at a slightly unusual angle - having never known which bit of the curved handlebars was supposed to be horizontal, I had set them to exactly 0 degrees according to the marker. Apparently, the bit which is supposed to be horizontal is just behind the brake hoods. He was surprised that I could ride the bike comfortably like that but I guess I have got used to it being that way.

While the road bike was being tended to, I took the Giant triathlon bike for a spin. For some reason I had never paid much attention to the creaking noises it would make when I put on the torque - for example, when standing up on the pedals. I assumed it was something to do with my shoes, the cleats or the cranks, the noise being amplified by the massive bottom bracket but after the scare of the loose head assembly, I thought I should probably do something about it. When the mechanic got his hands on the bike, he noticed that the noise was in fact coming from the rear wheel which twists ever so slightly, making a very worrying sound - worrying because it clearly shouldn't have any give at all. Not quite so dangerous as a loose head assembly I guess, but potentially as expensive, as we are talking about a Zipp disc wheel here... Considering I have probably done less than 500 kilometers on that wheel, it is surprising and a bit disappointing, especially is it is out of guarantee by now. I can't remember when I first noticed that creaking noise and I feel a bit silly for not having checked it out sooner - not unlike someone who refuses to go to the doctor. I don't avoid going to the LBS because of the cost - it is a bit of a false economy if you let the problems get to a expensive extreme - but rather that bikes represent self sufficiency for me: I hate the idea of depending on some external infrastructure. I like to think that even if there were a Zombie Holocaust, I'd still have my bikes (although perhaps the triathlon one wouldn't be the most practical choice).

The mechanic was also surprised that I could tolerate the aero position on the bike. It's true that it is a very aggressive position but I'd always followed the philosophy that I could train the position so why compromise and it's true that I did manage to do a Half Ironman on the aero bars (even though the run afterwards was a bit of a disaster, but that's another story). What was interesting was that he reckoned I couldn't deliver as much power if I couldn't pull on the bars, thereby using my arms and back to propel the bike forward. Quite a few people seem to have put upward sloping aero bars on the Giant - not least of which Timo Bracht - so I have invested in some with a "ski bend". I want to avoid spending lots of money tinkering with the position especially when I am not planning to do any triathlons any time soon but, on the other hand, it is a shame to have spent so much cash on a bike that is neither comfortable nor even significantly faster than my road bike, The other advantage of raising the hands is that it is often accompanied by lowering the head, thus obtaining an even more aerodynamic position. This is perhaps an extreme, but some people - Floyd Landis to name just one - have adopted a kind of "praying mantis" position:

The only bike not to have paid a visit to the LBS yet is the Merida mountain bike which is also the bike I most use. The chain stretching measurement tool thingy didn't detect any problems but after the experience with the other bikes perhaps it is due for a check up after all. All in all, this is becoming quite expensive... A bit of a shock after the relative low cost of just replacing running shoes every now and again.

Lastly, I finally got the 50cc moped up and running, so it really has been a week of mucking about with bikes. It was just a question of buying some petrol in a canister and charging the battery (which I managed to connect the wrong way round when I installed it in the moped, blowing a couple of fuses - doh!).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Royal City

I'm actually looking forward to spending a weekend at home for once. Having said that, i managed to relax on my Father in-laws little farm in the countryside of Ciudad Real. I took my road bike along as the thought of the soaring temperatures put me off the idea of going for a run. Instead, I set off in the direction of Puertollano and did a round trip of about 47 kilometers in an hour and a half. I did see a few other cyclists, but surprisingly I thought. As we have to go back next weekend to pick up the kids we left behind, I'll probably repeat the experience, maybe venturing a little further this time, as I have to say that I did enjoy it.

I also enjoyed very much commuting to work on the mountain bike for the first time in ages. It was a beautiful fresh morning, the rabbits were out in full view, and I arrived at work nice an early and bright as a button. On the way back, I was accompanied by Manuel and we took the long way round, via the Casa de Campo and a bar on the way.

The motivation is coming back, slowly...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Happier Feet

I was going to title this post "Un-Happy Feet" or "Not so Happy Feet" but, after going to the podiatrist yesterday with the results from my MRI scan, I'm feeling more upbeat, relieved even.

There's a reason why medical reports are handed to the patients in a sealed envelope and that is because they are quite terrifying to read. Raúl, the podiatrist, seemed a lot more relaxed about it since I last saw him after reading it and seeing me. It's true that the pain from the Morton's Neuroma has almost completely subsided - I only notice a sharp pain if I happen to tread on a stone in just the right (or wrong) way, and a tiny amount of numbness in my toes when I stand barefoot - but it's also true that I have radically cut down on running volume and intensity, as well as having changed to slightly less minimal (a little more maximal?) running shoes. There is a big difference between pain that is just discomfort to pain which is actually telling you that you are damaging yourself. In this case, the discriminating factor is what Raúl had to say about it. He verdict was that I should just keep an eye on it and come back after the summer when we could evaluate how things had gone and decide whether or not to go for orthotics (not surgery ). He didn't seem too concerned about my choice of footwear (Merrell Trail Gloves) stressing only that it was important to have a wide toe box.

In fact, the worry is more about the bunion than the neuroma. The scan basically confirmed that my unfortunate accident last year (of tripping over a paving stone) was to blame for the evolution in the bunion and the calcification around the big toe joint: it was possible to see some damage to the cartilage from the frontal impact. Although it shouldn't really make any difference, being able to attribute the blame to a stupid accident made it easier for me to swallow than it being due to, say, my choice (against all advice) to run in minimalist shoes. Strictly speaking, I blame the shoes I was wearing at the time for the accident - the combination of being very flexible and having an extremely generous toe box meant that it was relatively easy to trip over in them - but it is not as though anyone warned me against the dangers of tripping over in minimalist running shoes. In fact, this incident (not to mention the "red carpet incident") is what convinced me to switch over definitively to Vibram Five Fingers, whose footprint is no bigger than that of the foot itself (and employ reassuringly artificial dyes).

So, nothing has changed except I need not be quite so cautious and worried as I have been over the last few weeks. The timing is good - if it can ever be a good time to have an injury - as summer has started and I usually do more cycling and generally reduce the intensity of my runs. But now I can run freely and, if it hurts, it is just a nuisance, not a reason to turn back.

Having said all this, what I continue to struggle with is the balance between competition and simply keeping fit. I have had no problems whatsoever to motivate myself to endure a grueling and often boring workout when it has been part of the preparation for an upcoming race, but lately I have found it difficult to even complete what I would have previously considered an easy recovery run. The problem is that I continue to measure myself by the same standards, so I insist on setting off at 15 kph, thinking that anything else "doesn't count". What doesn't count is not to do anything, and of this I am the most scared: of losing my motivation altogether and just flopping into a state of eternal sofa-dom. I find it strangely difficult to run or ride at a "reasonable" pace, just enjoying the fresh air and the scenery. It's certainly easier with company but it is also a question of attitude. Will I continue to compete? Maybe. I don't have to decide anything now. Still, I would like to be able to derive sufficient motivation from just keeping active, without feeling like I have to monitor my 10K times, my weight or my percentage body fat.

In other news, we were in Asturias again this weekend. I thought I would use the bike so I made sure to fit the bike carrier to the roof of the car, just in case. But the bike had not survived the winter: the humidity was too much for it and the gear cables had rusted up. I couldn't help comparing the gear cables grating up and down in their housing with the inflamed nerves in my feet. I brought the bike back to Madrid in the end, for a bit of R&R.